Why August: Osage County is Awesome

Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts give truly powerhouse performances

August: Osage County is about a dysfunctional family - but dysfunctional really doesn’t seem a strong enough word to describe the problems going on in this story. Suicide – check; addiction – check; child abuse – check; you name an issue and you will more than likely find it in this adaptation of the award winning stage play.

The film follows the Westons and their extended family, as they all come together to the heat of the Oklahoma plains after the patriarch of the family commits suicide. He leaves behind a widow with mouth cancer and a decades-long addiction to pills, and 3 daughters all with a range of problems and issues they are individually dealing with. Meryl Streep plays the matriarch Violet Weston, a woman with no qualms about the way she treats others; her words cut her family like a razor sharp knife and she bulldozers her way through one after the next, nobody escaping her line of fire. Barbara, played phenomenally by Julia Roberts, is the eldest daughter and Roberts herself describes her as the most under-appreciated of the siblings, though her mother does seem to have a reliance on her despite her moving away. Barbara is going through a nasty separation with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and this is having a negative effect on their daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin in sulking teenage mode). With her personal life in tatters, she doesn’t have the emotional strength to deal with her mother and she more than loses her cool with her on many occasions. I don’t think Julia Roberts has sworn more in all of her films put together as she does in August, and whilst it is shocking at first, she so commits herself to this character so much that you soon forget this is the star of Pretty Woman (1990) and Notting Hill (1999). Julianne Nicholson is the middle daughter, Ivy, and is a shy, reserved woman no doubt due to the constant verbal lashings from her mother. She was the only daughter to stay close to home and this decision has definitely affected her. Karen, played by Juliette Lewis, is the youngest daughter and she fits many of the youngest sibling stereotypes; naïve, immature, pampered and lives in her own personal world of denial. She is engaged to Steve (Dermot Mulroney), a stranger to the family and unsuitable in more ways than one.

The Dinner scene is like watching a master class in acting

This year has been simply superb for ensemble casts and August has grouped together some of the best in the business. Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale play the extended family, Mattie Fae (Martindale) is Violet’s younger sister who is following in her footsteps in terms of wicked wisecracks. Cooper and Cumberbatch have a very moving relationship with a lot of love and acceptance between father and son, and this closeness is something that is lacking in the other relationships in the story.

August: Osage County is a great study of human behaviour, worlds of resentment, denial and hostility. This film really is about relationships; mothers and daughters spanning 2 generations, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, sisters and lovers. We see almost every form of relationship and the hardships and struggles it takes to make any one of them work. The beauty and genius of the performances in this movie are that we truly believe every word that is spoken. Despite the harshness of the circumstances often displayed, director John Wells still manages to find a lot of humour. This is one of the elements that make the film so relateable and realistic; audiences have all experienced family gatherings that are perhaps unwanted and stressful, with emotions running high and someone ends up on the wrong side of another - but within that there is also a lot of humour in real life situations, even the more volatile examples.

The Setting of August was filmed in Oklahoma and as such is very authentic and got a real feel for the heat and the vast solitary feeling of the plains. This, without a doubt, adds to the depth and believability of the performances. You can practically feel the heat coming through the screen and you feel the air thick with anger as tempers are on the edge. The film is 2 hours in length but I would have sat longer to see some of the stories develop - there are so many different side plots due to the amount of characters involved. It simply is not enough time to cover everything. That is a credit to the writing that these characters are so developed, so interesting that you could stay with them longer and see more of their journey.

But this really is a Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts film; the chemistry between the two is incredible and they so totally become their characters it is no holds barred; there was obviously no restrictions as to where they were willing to go with their characters and boy do they go there. 

All involved physically and spiritually inhabit their characters so deeply to the extent that you no longer see the actor

August: Osage County has been nominated for 2 Academy Awards: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Meryl Streep (her record breaking 18th nomination) and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Julia Roberts. Both are undeniably deserved and, despite not being the obvious frontrunners in a ridiculously strong year of performances, they could both pull out a surprise win.

It’s no happy ending with rainbows and butterflies for this film, and it has a hard edge to it throughout, but nevertheless it is an outstanding film. It is worth seeing for the amazing talent involved, or even just seeing Julia Roberts rugby tackle Meryl Streep.

Final Score: 9/10

This has been Mary for The Awesome Update.

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